It was never like this, it was always like this

This is what really happened.

They weren’t hippies, they were monkeys. I went downstairs to get a soda and they were attacking the vending machines. It was around two in the morning and the dorm was so quiet, like another place completely, an abandoned place full of emptiness and silence, not students and all their useless noise. So empty I probably could have walked downstairs in my underwear except that it was a little creepy all alone in those great big abandoned hallways. Like post-apocalyptic zombie movie creepy especially since it’s always the girl in her underwear who dies first. So I was wearing boxers, a sweatshirt, and socks when I walked in on them. There were glass and candy and chip bags everywhere, the colors and reflected light all piled up on the floor like pirate treasure the hippies were gathering in their hairy arms. At least five of them were monkeys and I’m not sure what kind. I’m not a monkey expert and it was hard to think around the gash in my foot and all that blood. I kept telling myself they had to be hippies because that made more sense than monkeys running around the dorm, but the hair and the eyes made it difficult to call them human. The fact that they didn’t say anything wasn’t such a problem, because it wasn’t unusual for people not to speak to me, especially in the middle of the night since I got Ricky busted for dealing (I really didn’t mean to, it’s my job. Well, not so much my job now as the job I want to have next year — RA). The small, hairy hands and bodies were probably the most significant indication that I wasn’t dealing with my own species anymore, but I try to be open-minded about appearances. If they don’t want to shave, that’s their choice and their right, right?

Three of them sat on the upended candy machine, where they could reach in with too long, hairy fingers for the sweets inside. They were the ones now frozen, staring at my foot and the floor and I started to worry that maybe some monkeys liked blood. And human flesh. Wasn’t there a movie about lab monkeys and zombies?

As soon as I thought about the zombie movie, the monkeys started talking to me and to each other and I felt like I could almost understand them even though it was mainly squeaks and growls.

Then I could understand them. Perfectly.

“Oh God! Are you okay?” Or that’s what I heard anyway. It was like a dubbed movie where the mouth’s movements don’t match the words, but it was definitely words, definitely sentences and even a question. I thought it was one of the monkeys on the candy machine, but there was another monkey standing in front of me, looking me up and down, back and forth between my foot and face. This monkey was wearing a lab coat, those purple vinyl gloves, and sneakers and her hair was streaked with pink. This monkey was you, I just didn’t know it yet. Also, I didn’t know how to speak monkey. Maybe it was like the same movie you were in and my words would be dubbed right back. Maybe my mouth would be making strange shapes, but the words would come out in the squeaks and growls a monkey would understand.

“I think I cut myself?” I said slowly, enunciating carefully and you looked at me like you didn’t understand, so I tried to clarify. “You know, on the glass,” I made a loud, sweeping gesture to point out the shards of glass and ended with my blood-soaked sock and foot. Maybe the translation didn’t work both ways.

You stared at me for a few awkward moments, your head tilted to the side like a dog (or a monkey) trying to pick up a faraway sound.

“Whatever,” I growled and decided it was probably a good idea to get out of the room before the monkeys smelled the blood and fear and decided I would taste better than the candy.

I didn’t get far. One step on the bloody foot and I fell over yelping in pain. I held it as hard as I could trying to contain the throbbing, but it didn’t work. A purple hand appeared on my shoulder and I jumped. It was you and I realized as I looked up that I was on the floor surrounded and outnumbered.

“Let me help. I’m pre-med,” you said, but I didn’t hear the words, just felt the monkey presence all around me. When they talk about being able to smell fear, fear smells pretty much like a roomful of monkeys. My hands snapped up to protect me from the inevitable attack, but you just rolled back on your heels, eyes wide, hands raised in surrender.

“I won’t hurt you,” you said gently and slowly lowered a hand to point at my bloody foot. “There’s probably still some glass in your foot,” you said and I hissed at you to stay back, but you knelt next to me anyway. Your pupils weren’t so big and you weren’t furry like the other monkeys. Maybe I was wrong about you. Or maybe I was right and you shaved.

 

“It’ll hurt less if you get the glass out,” you said and just stared at me. I had to admit that made sense, so I sat back slightly still keeping an eye on the other monkeys who hadn’t said anything since I fell. One of them looked back at the candy machine and I decided it was probably safe. After a week of cramming for mid-terms and drinking nothing but diet soda, I probably wouldn’t taste very good anyway. And I smelled even worse.

You were gentler than I thought you’d be when you slowly took my sock off, hissing slightly under your breath like you were hurt. There was a large piece of red glass sticking out of my foot like a piece of mirror without back.

“I’m going to have to take it out,” you said, but looked up at me like it was a question so I nodded. It slipped out without a sound staining your glove fingers red but you didn’t lift them to your mouth to suck off the blood so I figured you weren’t interested in me that way. You placed it carefully in a sandwich bag and put it in the pocket of your lab coat as if it was somehow more dangerous than the other pieces of glass still transparent and all sharp angles, scattered on the floor. Then you snapped off the gloves and threw them away like the doctors on that show.

“You need to put some antibiotic and a bandage on that,” you said and nodded again at my foot. “You might even need stitches.” When I didn’t answer (because it wasn’t a question), you held your hand out. “Do you have a first aid kit in your room?”

I waited for a few moments hoping he would show up to carry me away, but everything remained exactly the same. Except the monkeys were looking at me again, waiting for a response.

“No,” I said finally and reached out for her pale, hairless hand. “But my roommate does. She’s a hypochondriac.”

In the other story, he swept me up into his arms and carried me to his room full of cool and mystery. But you’re too small (smaller than me) to carry me and I wasn’t sure what happened next. I was pretty sure we were only going upstairs to my dorm room not some hidden room with expensive rugs and antiques.

In this story you let me lean on you and we limped to the door where you turned to speak to the monkeys. I could understand it, which meant that the translator was still working. Or I was so lightheaded from blood loss that I thought I could understand it and I’m not sure there’s really a difference.

“Stay,” was all you said and the monkeys stopped long enough to stare and nod once. You nodded back and we went through the swinging door, hobbling brokenly down the hallway and up the stairs to my room. I looked back once, but all I could see was a trail of red drops and smears following us, marking the way like vampire breadcrumbs.

“Maybe we should go to the ER,” you said and I tried to pull away, but you wouldn’t let me.

“No!” I said too loudly then said it again softly so I wouldn’t scare you, “No, please. I hate doctors.”

Your forehead folded into furrows and you tilted your head again, but nodded barely, “Okay.”

My room was just as messy as I remembered it, books and papers all over the floor, crushing the bed under their weight. This whole thing was getting farther and farther away from the story I’d written and I wasn’t sure how to get it back. Where was he anyway?

“Who?” you asked and I realized that I’d spoken out loud.

“Um,” I pushed a pile of Art History notes onto the floor and tried to hold my foot away from the comforter I couldn’t afford to replace. Blood dripped off the edge of my foot and I caught it with my hand. “You know, the guy in the story,” I said. You just looked at me, your head tilting to the side again. “In the story I was writing for comp, you were supposed to be a guy,” I said and tried to take off my other sock. Blood smeared all over the white fabric.

 

“Yeah, that happens sometimes,” you nodded and studied my foot like you hadn’t really heard what I’d said, which was okay. I was used to that. “You really need stitches.”

“Can’t you do it? You’re pre-med,” I said.  

“They don’t let us work on live humans ‘til the fourth year of med school,” you said, still studying my foot. You reached across me for a tissue then carefully wiped blood away.

“So you start on monkeys,” I asked thinking that explained everything.

“Not exactly,” you said and reached under the bed for the first aid kit.

“How’d you know it would be under there?”

You opened it and pulled out a several band-aids, which you began to open one by one lining them up on the comforter. “It’s always under there,” you said then turned to look directly at me. “I’m going to use these to butterfly it,” you said then spread some antibiotic cream and began using the band-aids to tape the wound together.

“Butterfly?” I asked beginning to feel light-headed and wondered how much blood was too much blood to lose. How much could you lose before you passed out? Before you went into a coma? Forty-seven drops? 12 tablespoons? I was imagining monarchs flying around my foot. Swallowtails. Black lines framing sun-bright, iridescent, insect colors.

“You won’t be able to walk on it for a few days,” you said, smoothing the plastic onto my skin.

“Okay.” I didn’t want to go anywhere anyway. “My roommate still has her crutches from last semester.”

You nodded and applied the last one. There were little pieces of band-aid wrapper all over the bed, which you began to gather up in that way that meant you were about to leave. I wanted you to leave and didn’t at the same time. I didn’t really have a roommate.

“I don’t really have a roommate,” I said and you just stood there looking at me.

“Does that mean you don’t have crutches?” you asked and I nodded.

“But I can get some from my neighbor,” I said and hoped you would believe it.

There was a long silence as you scowled at the window and I tried to read your mind or at least your body language. Other people could do that, but I couldn’t even read faces. Smiles were the worst. They could mean anything. “That’s okay,” I said and tried to laugh a little although I’m pretty sure it came out a little too loud. “I know you have to go take care of the monkeys.”

Your head cocked to the side again as if I had said something in another language or out of the range of human hearing.

“Yeah,” you said in that long drawn out way that really means ‘you’re crazy’. “The monkeys. Well, okay then,” you said and moved to the door. I’m not sure what I said then. Probably lots of thank yous and something else that made you leave even faster. Without even telling me your name.

*

The top story on the news was the MeMx flu or virus or whatever. Jordan kept sending me anonymous, unautocorrected texts from the quarantined dorm. I wasn’t sure if he was hoping to fool me or the police who were probably monitoring all communications going in and out of the dorm or maybe I watched too many TV procedurals.

Wish you were here?

Except that something cut it off so it ended up being, Wish you were her

I didn’t want to wish it, but I also sort of did (even though we broke up last week) and apparently everyone else on campus and even in town did too because there was extra security around those dorms to keep people out, not just in.

U need to get out of ur room! Stop studyin!!!

Remember that place w/the giant metal orchids? Go! Have sum fun!

I didn’t remember that place or the giant metal orchids, which was really no surprise. Even though I felt like I should.

Over the next hours and days the texts got weirder.

I’m sorry I hit u. u know Im not rlly like that right?

Im not. Am I? Real

The text was cut off again by something I couldn’t see. Twelve students had died already, which was pretty good odds especially if you believed the students inside who said it was the cops or other students who killed some of them and not the virus. Or they killed themselves.

Not allowed to txt. Might b contagious!!!

better than seX or shrooms!

I thought a few times about sneaking in to see Jordan and catching it myself (supposedly there’s a secret, abandoned tunnel between my dorm and the infected ones), but I’m not that brave. More afraid of the virus and the things it is supposed to do to you than the cops. And I wondered why all those people camped outside hoping to get it through the tear gas and riot police, weren’t more afraid. Memories are everything we have. Aren’t they?

*

My best friend Lauren was an anthropology major. Her sophomore year, she’d gone to some place in the Amazon rainforest and her group ‘discovered’ a tribe that had managed to stay hidden until then. The tribe supposedly decided Lauren was some kind of goddess. Something about her pink hair or a scar or tattoo or maybe the iPhone she wasn’t supposed to bring, but did anyway. It was never really clear, but Lauren was convinced it was just her. Regardless, they worshipped her, built shrines and made sacrifices to her, prayed to her for things like jaguar children and good harvests. That was the story, anyway.

Not surprisingly, Lauren only wanted to talk about herself at lunch and pretty much all the time. When it was finally my turn, I began to tell her about the hippies and the monkeys and you. I could tell she wasn’t listening, but it felt good to talk about it so I did. Until she noticed the bandages and the crutches (I’d finally gone to the ER like you said because it wouldn’t stop bleeding and I only have so many socks) and I had to start all over again. I didn’t get very far, not even to the part about zombies, before she showed me a scar on her forearm and started with, yeah, I know, like when I cut myself with the knife during that ritual and I’ve heard that story before and I already know there are no monkeys in it and there is no you either so it really wasn’t anything like my story. So I listened to her the way she listened to me, thinking about my food and how the stitches were beginning to itch so that I could feel each stitch individually because each stitch really did itch and hurt in a different way.

When she finished telling me about the cut on her arm that was just a faint scar now, I smiled and you were suddenly there with your tray and an odd look on your face and I understood that you wanted to sit with us. I moved my crutches out of the way and you sat down next to me with a plate full of salad; the green kind without any fun stuff like macaroni or olives and croutons in it. This was the lunch of an adult and I was ashamed of my waffles and ice cream or what was left of them anyway.

“Hi, I’m Josie,” you said to Lauren who said something back, but your attention was already on me and the crutches. “So you finally went to the doctor?” you said more than asked and began to eat your boring salad. Lauren shifted around in her seat before pulling out that same stupid phone and pretending like she was texting someone.

“Oh,” I said and then, “Yeah. I meant to thank you for everything, but I don’t even know your name.”

“Now you do,” you said with an odd smile. “But I still don’t know yours,” you said, but it came out a little strange because you were still chewing.

“Oh, um, it’s Storey,” I said and your eyebrows went up a bit, but you were smiling and you took another bite.

“No it’s not,” Lauren said with a snort and I realized she’d been listening. She was sneaky like that. She only listened when she wasn’t supposed to.

“Yes it is. It’s my middle name,” I said, my face hot with embarrassment. I thought I was being cool using my middle name, like I was starting over as someone else. A spy. Now, thanks to Lauren, I was just being stupid.

“It’s Jordan,” Lauren said to Josie, ignoring me with a roll of her eyes.

“No. I’m changing it,” I said. “Jordan’s so boring. It’s like an extra last name. Extraneous. Like the end of something. Besides, we broke up.”

Lauren sat there blinking at me for a few seconds then rolled her eyes again.

“I can’t believe you just used the word ‘extraneous’ in normal conversation,” she said with a snarling smile. “And I really can’t believe you broke up. He’s totally hot and it was kind of disgustingly cute that you had the same name. Even if it got kind of confusing. Like, who you were talking about or if I’d texted you or Jordan. I wouldn’t have let that go.” This was the worst part about breaking up with someone. Everyone else telling you what they would have done.

“Whatever,” I said and half hoped she wasn’t listening anymore. “Why don’t you go answer some prayers or something,” I said and meant it to be mean, but she expanded at least two times normal size and opened her mouth to speak, all of her attention going to you.

“Like, I was in the Amazon and this tribe there thought I was,” Lauren began, her voice and shoulders shrugging as if she thought it was all ridiculous even though it was all she ever thought or talked about. Like a curse the tribe had put on the rest of us for ‘finding’ them.

“I know,” you said, interrupting. “I read the article in The Marsley Meme.”

“Oh,” Lauren said and I could tell she didn’t know whether to be angry at the interruption or flattered that someone had read the article and remembered.

“Pretty cool,” you said with a tight smile and picked up a long thin cut of red pepper with your fingers and began to nibble on it. “How’s the foot?” you asked turning your attention back to me.

“Um, it’s okay,” I lied. “Showering’s kind of a nightmare though,” I said and Lauren began to pack up her things. I knew she was pissed that she didn’t get to tell the goddess story again, but couldn’t bring myself to make it right. The only way to do that was to apologize for something I hadn’t done and ask her to tell the story I’d heard a thousand times. “How are the monkeys?” I asked you as Lauren stormed away without even saying good-bye. “Did you get them all back to the lab?”

You froze with the fork full of green stuff inches from your face, before slowly lowering it to you plate. Your eyes never left your food. You started nodding before you began speaking. An exaggerated nod that was like something on TV. “Yep. All back safe and sound,” you said and kept nodding.

*

We were real. Right? Not jst rivers

*

You found my number somehow and left a voicemail. I tried to act like I didn’t get it – ‘no, seriously. I think someone’s hacking into my voicemail account and deleting messages. Probably my brother or this creep in my Calc class’ – but I went to the movie with you anyway thinking of Jordan’s texts and how alone and not fun I was. It wasn’t giant metal orchids or ghost dances, but I wasn’t in my dorm room. You were there waiting like you knew all along that I would come. I was sweating from the long walk over, which is ten times longer on crutches, but you didn’t seem to notice.

The movie was about a hole in the wall that led to another dimension or something and two women fell in love and there were chimpanzees. You sat right next to me and rested your arm on the armrest in between, taking up space like we were dating. You bought the tickets and the popcorn and wouldn’t let me give you any money. By the end of the movie, I was starting to get nervous. I didn’t even notice you were talking to me.

When I didn’t answer, you tried again.

“I don’t know. I thought you might like it,” you said like it was a question, but I didn’t know how to answer.

“You know,” I said and concentrated on putting the thick rubber ends of my crutches on the pavement and not on the slippery, giving ground outside its rectangles. “I’m not a lesbian.”

You gave me a strange look that could have meant anything even though it wasn’t a smile. You tried again. “The monkeys. I thought you’d like the monkeys.”

“Oh,” I said, because what would I say to that. “But they were chimpanzees.”

You shrugged and slowed down again so I could catch up.

“At least there were subtitles, so we could understand them,” I said.

That’s when I realized you were smiling, that you’d been smiling all along and I had misread your face again all night.

“Can I kiss you goodnight?” you asked. I looked up at my dorm and wondered which room was mine wondering why I hadn’t wondered about that before, worrying about the endless stairs and the unforgiving crutches digging under my arms. The way they squeaked and mewled and howled on the linoleum in the halls. Then I thought of Jordan in his dorm room making up the past, making me up like I was just something in his memory, something a virus could use and make disappear like a movie. Something he could text to me like it was real. “Oh, well, whatever. Thanks for, um, going with me. I had fun,” you said without really giving me a chance to answer.

“Okay. Yes,” I said, thinking of the text I could send Jordan about tonight. I kissd a girl!

Do i know her?

No. She was with the monkeys.

Your face was soft and smooth like your lips, which were much cooler than I expected, like a screen. I could feel you smile against my mouth as we kissed and wondered what was funny.

“What’s so funny?” I asked, pulling away from you slightly. You were still looking at my mouth.

“Nothing. You kiss like you text. You know?” She was still smiling, but this smile was huge like the sun kind of impossible to misinterpret.

I had no idea what that meant, so I kissed her again and tried to figure it out.

*

When I woke up, the room was dark and my foot was throbbing because it had been too long since the last pain pill, but I still knew. The monkeys. They were in the room. The lights from the quad were the only source of illumination, so I could just make out their red silhouettes, or pieces of them against the darker, familiar shadows of the room. I could just barely see the dim glint of an eye open and watching me from the dresser, the closet, the other bed. There was no sound though. No talking or monkey chatter, not even the sound of movement as fur slid against fur or rough pads of hand/feet shushing against wood. I tried but couldn’t move, the sheets and blanket locked me to the bed. Where was the key?

“That was the worst fuckin’ party in, like, the history of fucking ever,” my roommate said, slurring her way into the room, bumping the light on as she stomped past.

“What the fuck, Iz,” I said and brought a hand up to defend against the light. “Shit! Turn the light off and shut the fucking door.”

“Fine!” She yelled back and collapsed onto her bed, the light still blazing, door still wide open.

“You are such an incredible dick,” I said and got up, still muttering. “I should have taken your keys. I hate you. I hope you die in a fire.”

I didn’t realize until I reached the center of the floor that they were gone.

“Where are the monkeys?” I asked the empty room that now had my roommate in it.

“Are you high?” My roommate said and giggled in that way that made me want to hit her. “I told you you should have given the vicodin to me. You never could handle the heady stuff,” she mumbled and snuggled in under the comforter fully dressed, still wearing her muddy boots.

If I’d been a good roommate or cared about her at all, I would have undressed her, at least a little. At least the muddy boots.

“I hate you,” I said again to make sure, but she was already asleep. Sometimes she just pretended to be asleep to piss me off. “The monkeys that were on your dresser,” I said, motioning wildly to the monkey that wasn’t there anymore. “And the closet,” I said and repeated myself. The window was open, which made sense. They could have escaped that way.

I stumbled as fast as I could to the window, wondering how it had gotten open and looked down the three stories to the cement and grass below. There were no monkeys. They weren’t scaling the brick walls either. They just weren’t there.

“Hey,” you said and I jumped, banging my head against the windowsill. “Sorry, is this a bad time?” You asked. You kept looking at my roommate and back at me.

“No, um,” I started, not really knowing what I was going to say until I remembered the monkeys. “The monkeys! Are you looking for them?”

You just stared at me. “What?”

“The monkeys,” I said. “Your monkeys. They were just in here.”

You kept staring at me until finally you looked at my roommate again.

“I, um, I obviously interrupted something here,” you said and began backing toward the still open door. “I’ll just, um, go. Sorry.”

“No!” I said and jumped toward you. “What? Interrupted? Aren’t you looking for your monkeys?”

“Interrupted you,” you said. “And your date.” She pointed at my roommate who was snoring loudly.

“Ew. I’d never,” I began and couldn’t think of how to explain how impossible that was. “She’s like a disease.” I sat down heavily on the edge of my bed and sighed. That had been the perfect opportunity. I could have told you that the roommate was my girlfriend and you would have disappeared. “She’s only sort of my roommate,” I said and winced.

“I thought you didn’t have a roommate,” you said.

“Exactly?” I said and tried to come up with something better.

You shut the door, but stood just this side of it like you were trying to stay close to your escape route.

“So were you lying then or now?” You asked like it didn’t really matter.

“Neither. Both?” I said because I was pretty sure I had lied both times. I usually do.

You closed your eyes and shook your head and I was sure you were about to leave.

“You know, you could have just told me,” you said and turned your back to me. I got the feeling you weren’t talking about my roommate or the monkeys, but I was worried I’d make things worse if I asked so I didn’t.

“Wait! But the monkeys!” I yelped, because it was the only thing I could think of. “They were just here so it should be easy to find them.”

You opened the door.

“Please don’t,” I said, but probably too soft for you to hear. “Go.”

“I quit that job. I only took it to help them,” you said without turning around. “But they didn’t want my help.”

The door closed behind you and I was left with the lit-up room and the roommate who was now throwing up in the trashcan.

I turned the light off thinking they might come back, but they didn’t. You didn’t either.

My phone lit up with a text from Jordan.

Stay awy from monkeys. DNGER!

I didn’t text him back.

*

When she moved out, the roommate left a set of those figurines on her dresser. I tried to return them, left messages all over the place, because they’re kind of valuable even if they are creepy. I considered packing them carefully in a shoebox and leaving them at her new apartment or maybe mailing them to her, but I was too worried about breaking them to even try.

So they were still sitting on the dresser where her clothes weren’t anymore. Strange little people all out of proportion, like mutants or alien gnomes. I couldn’t sleep with them staring at me, so I decided to bury them outside where they would be safe but away from me. But I couldn’t figure out how to carry them and walk with the crutches so I threw one of the roommate’s dirty t-shirts over them and stuffed them in a drawer until I could walk again. I heard one clink against another, but the t-shirt would make it look enough like her drunken accident. It was her fault for leaving them in the room anyway.

*

We ran into the roommate again at the end of another date that wasn’t a date. You left a message like the other night with the roommate and the disappearing monkeys never happened.

“Hey! I know you!” the roommate’s boyfriend said, pointing with a big stoned smile before even a hello. I thought he was pointing at me, but it was you his finger accused. “Stone monkeys” he said and laughed. The roommate didn’t think it was funny and hit him.

“Yeah,” you said and smiled like you didn’t really mean it. Like you had no idea what he was talking about, but were trying to be polite.

The roommate hit him again when he didn’t stop laughing and saying ‘yeah’ over and over.

“What the fuck?” the roommate said. She didn’t even look at me or bother to say hi even though I got stuck with her vomit trashcan. That was how it had been since she started dating him. Maybe that’s how it had always been.

“Oh, remember,” he said, but she just looked at him and rolled her eyes. “Aw, come on. Remember? I told you about the chick at the lab who bought a bunch of K?”

They both turned to look at you, but you were looking at me. Your hand gripped mine tighter and I realized too late that the roommate had seen us holding hands. She was one of those people who had to have everything I ever had or even just wanted. She would want you now. I was pretty sure the only reason she was with the boyfriend was because he was a dealer and everyone wanted him and what he had. I could see her looking you over, trying to decide how badly I wanted you, how badly she would want you. Until she remembered the boyfriend. He was still smiling at you when I turned back, but the roommate looked like she suddenly remembered the story about the stone monkeys and didn’t like it.

“You said she was hot,” the roommate accused.

His smile faded. “Did I?”

The roommate smiled a tight smile and turned to me.

“Well, she is,” he said to me and winked, his smile even brighter. “Right?”

I wasn’t sure what to say.

“Wow. The stone monkey girl,” he said, shaking his head, grinning at you. “I have to tell Jerry about this. He’s gonna shit.” Now that the boyfriend was interested in you too, she would have to have you. I gripped your hand harder like I wanted to hold onto you.

“Remember. Jerry thought I said ‘stone monkeys’, not ‘stoned monkeys’. Like the ones on the outside of Compton and we all thought it was hilarious, so Scotty climbed up there and got us one for a hundred bucks.” He smiled again and was too stoned to notice how angry the roommate was. “Wow. The stone monkey chick.”

“Whatever,” the roommate said and yanked him down the path without even saying good-bye. I could hear them arguing and hoped she didn’t show up in my room for the night. But she would. Especially if she thought you’d be there.

*

There r monkeys in my room.

Mine too, I texted back. It took a long time for him to respond.

Liar! This is monkey. We have ur frend. Come git or we kilz. Bring girl. we tradez

I checked the closet and under the bed. I even looked in the roommate’s drawers before I blocked Jordan’s number. If it really was the monkeys, I didn’t want to talk to them.

*

When I got back to my room after Advanced Calculus the door was unlocked. I listened with my ear pressed against the cool wood and thought I heard chattering inside, but it could have been the radiators or the roommate’s alarm going off again (she set it for random times to annoy me). I waited until Jay Wu was walking down the hall to open the door slowly. There were no monkeys or even the roommate inside. A stone gargoyle sat on the roommate’s dresser. It took me a minute to get it: stone monkey. Someone had painted on lipstick, eyelashes and purple nitrile gloves. The figurines were gone.

*

A few days later I began to remember other things about the movie. Whole scenes were different. The hole in the wall didn’t lead into an actor’s head, but a monkey’s. When I climbed inside I could speak to you and all the other monkeys without a translator. I understood everything you said. Perfectly.

But when I crawled back outside the monkey head into my head, I couldn’t remember anything of my own. All I had was someone else’s memories. Some monkey’s memories about jungles and stone ruins, temples, pink hair, and blood. I couldn’t understand any of it and the translator wasn’t working.

*

I sneaked into the party because I didn’t want the roommate to see me. Her boyfriend invited me, but she made it pretty clear I wasn’t supposed to come. There was a rumor that they’d gotten hold of someone who was infected and offered them drugs or money to show up and were charging everyone a ton of money to get in to this place that was basically a tunnel somewhere on campus. There was no map just a series of directions, so by the time you got to the party, you had no idea where you were even though there were those creepy, barred windows at the very top of the cement walls. The windows were too small to crawl through and too high to see anything but the orange winter sky.  Someone had thrown expensive rugs onto the dirty cement floors. The whole place smelled like mildew, rot, and cheap incense.

Everyone was looking around hoping to spot the one with the virus, hoping to get sick so they could tell themselves new stories about how cool they were. Like the virus was an invitation to the greatest party ever. They were all holding hands, sharing drinks, kissing, trying to get infected, but still acting like it didn’t matter or trying to. I just wanted to get out of my dorm, away from the monkeys and Jordan’s texts, and I wanted to get out without you. I wasn’t even sure why just that it scared me that I’d rather be with you than doing things I used to do alone.

I found a drink and stood near the DJ hoping you wouldn’t show because I wasn’t sure how to explain. Everything went kind of still and I thought the music had stopped, but it hadn’t. The party had gone silent around the music and everyone was staring at the DJ or that’s what I thought until I turned around and the DJ was staring at me.

I looked down at my clothes, at my shoes thinking maybe my foot opened up again and bled through, but there was no red stain, no open fly.

“Hey, Jordan!” the roommate’s boyfriend shouted and shouldered his way through the crowd. “Stoned monkey’s here,” he said and I could see that he was pulling you behind him. You looked confused but not angry until someone moved aside and you saw me. Your face looked like everyone else’s then, wide and staring, but it changed quickly to a smile that looked wrong, like an emoticon — all dots and the end of the parentheses mouth with nothing between.

As you walked toward me with a drink in each hand leaving the dealer boyfriend behind, my phone buzzed, but I tried to act like it wasn’t. Your lips were soft and cool on my cheek and I tried to ignore the fact that everyone was staring at us. The drink you brought me was too sweet and also kind of bitter, but not in a good way. The roommate’s boyfriend must have been tending bar again. He always made the worst drinks, but they were usually really strong so no one cared. I took another sip as you slid your arm around my waist, swaying a little bit to the music. I didn’t know how to talk to you yet, even when you pressed a warm question into my ear so I checked my phone. There were thirty-four texts:

ur frind ded. bring girl 2nite or u nxt

u hav what we want viruz

They were all from the monkeys. Somehow they’d unblocked their number.

Your chin rested sharp on my shoulder and I could feel you stiffen as you read the text.  The letters went blurry and I felt everything swaying harder as if the room itself was moving to the DJ’s beat, which kept speeding up.

“Are you okay,” you asked.  Then, “Oh no,” and you yelled at everyone to get back and I wondered who was too close and why. My cell phone clattered away on the scarred cement floor as my fingers forgot how to work. When I turned to you your face unlocked and I remembered everything, an entirely different story of us: Your name was never Josie and the monkeys weren’t monkeys, but I couldn’t remember who they were.

“Didn’t we break up,” I tried to say, but it came out as grunts and squeaks.

“Stoned monkeys, Jordan,” the roommate’s boyfriend said and laughed a high-pitched laugh that might have been a scream. I heard sirens somewhere far off, but knew they’d be too late even if I didn’t know what for. Things went black for a moment until I realized my eyes had closed along with everything else. I opened them to find myself at the bottom of a well or a pit, but the walls moved around and away from me as I tried to grab onto something to lift myself up. There should have been a rope or a ladder. The walls should have been made of stone, not animals. Not people.

“No!” you screamed and kicked out at the wall then threw your drink, which landed with a soft grunt not the explosion of glass I was hoping for. There were too many of them. They were a wall around us going back and back, up and up and the roommate was in front, her mouth curved in a carnivorous grin, her pupils black to edge like a gargoyle. I tried to move, but the windows were too far away and the walls collapsed on me in a smothering, tearing pile of hands and teeth, fur and blood.

.

.


Melissa Moorer was struck by lightning when she was eight. Her work has been published in Electric Lit, Hobart, The Offing , Fireside Fiction, The Butter/The Toast,  FLAPPERHOUSE, Vestal Review and others. She was Assistant-Editor at The Butter/The Toast where she wrote “This Writer’s On Fire” for Roxane Gay.

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